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Fairphone stepping up on fair lithium

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Here at Fairphone we have joined and are members of several sustainable and ethical initiatives that address both social and environmental issues. From being B Corp certified to receiving a gold certification from Fairtrade, we always strive for excellence. More recently, we have become a member of IRMA (Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance) to establish fair supply chains. This is just another way in which we inspire the industry to source fairer materials that can have a positive impact on people and the planet. It is a key step in our fair sourcing journey, particularly for lithium. Having completed the research and supply chain mapping and engaged with our suppliers, let us share our progress.

What is IRMA?

IRMA is the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance and their vision is of a world where the mining industry respects human rights and aspirations of affected communities, provides safe, healthy and supportive workplaces, minimizes harm to the environment, and leaves positive legacies. With the increase of global demand for more responsible mining, IRMA offers a verification system for all mined materials, where the score is based on the social and environmental performance of mining sites.

More specifically, as a start, we are pushing for our supply chain to source lithium, which is used in our batteries, from mines that have been assessed through IRMA.

Lithium critical risks & opportunities for improvement

Lithium is one of our focus fair materials and its use, within the broader industry, is expected to grow exponentially in years to come. The first step of our journey was research: we assessed critical risks and opportunities for improvements in the Lithium supply chain to see where change can take place.

Lithium from the battery is rarely recovered or recycled, as its extraction is neither economically nor energy efficient. It is expensive to reclaim and in the end, very little is recovered, making lithium recycling virtually unheard of. As a result, it becomes just another disregarded material that ends up in the ever-growing global e-waste stream, adding to the pile of discarded electronic equipment. While ways to increase its recycling need to be explored.

In the meantime, with demand on the rise and recycling opportunities not yet available, mining remains a key supplier in the decades to come. The mining of lithium presents a negative impact on water resources, which severely impacts regions where water scarcity is already present. This not only affects humans, but biodiversity including animal life as well. This does not sit well with us and change needs to happen. On the positive side, there are some companies that recognize this impact and avoid water-intensive mining and are working toward improvements. More of these companies need to step up to the plate and lead the way in the ethical and responsible mining of materials.

With continued concerns of livelihoods and community development in and around mining, there is a clear and present opportunity for greater engagement with those communities. Development, which is often a multi-year effort, can only be driven in these regions through collaboration between the mining companies, communities and other critical stakeholders.

We are committed

IRMA is committed to transparency and continuous improvement in the mining sector – two aspects that are key in our Fair Sourcing Policy as well as our mission here at Fairphone. This membership enables us to reach out to our lithium suppliers in our supply chain and encourage them to be audited through IRMA. We are working with our battery supplier to integrate lithium from IRMA-assessed mines into our battery supply chain.

We have a lot of work ahead of us, but we are more encouraged and emboldened every day to continue on our path to a fairer, more transparent and sustainable industry.

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